Protecting South Africa’s Freshwater Ecosystems

Under the banner of “Conservation in Action”, the Endangered Wildlife Trust is dedicated to the conservation of southern Africa’s threatened species and ecosystems, with its vision being to attain “a healthy planet and an equitable world that values and sustains diversity of all life”. In working toward this lofty goal the EWT has a number of goal-oriented conservation projects, one of which is the “Source to Sea Programme” – an amalgamation of the Marine and Coastal Conservation Programme (MCCP) and the Healthy Rivers Programme (HRP).

The Healthy Rivers Programme is currently involved with three projects, being the Crocodile-Marico Catchment Project, the Transboundary Orange-Senqu River Basin and the Amatola Freshwater Species Conservation Project. Based in the Eastern Cape Province‘s Amatola Catchment Area, the Amatola Freshwater Species Conservation Project has identified the high water yield zone as a freshwater biodiversity hotspot which is home to three threatened fish species, two threatened amphibians and one threatened dragonfly (odonate). As there is no formal protection for these species at this time, the project will attempt to raise awareness in local communities and coordinate efforts conserve the species and their habitats. One of the problems being faced by indigenous freshwater fish is the invasive fish species that were introduced into the local waterways and dams in the early 20th century. These alien species – largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, common carp, brown trout and rainbow trout – have multiplied and had a severely negative impact on indigenous fish populations. Moreover, the rivers within the Amatola Catchment have suffered pollution, uncontrolled water abstraction and habitat deterioration. All of which will be addressed by the project.

The EWT reports that more than 80% of South Africa’s river ecosystems are being threatened as a growing population requires increasing amounts of water, and water sources face pollution from industries and agricultural pesticides and fertilizers. Up to 54% of South Africa’s river ecosystems are considered to be critically endangered. The Crocodile River and the Vaal Rivers are considered to be the two hardest working rivers in the country, and the need to protect them and other freshwater ecosystems cannot be overemphasized.